The Environmental Damages Of Cosmetics
The public is becoming increasingly aware of the health dangers posed by cosmetics and personal care products. Many consumer agencies have made great strides in educating consumers about the health risks of these products but their disastrous effects on the environment are less well known. Here’s a look at what the beauty industry is doing to the world around us.
The production of cosmetics products causes many detrimental effects to the environment, here are a few of the main concerns:
The Cost Of ‘Natural’:
Companies are cashing in on the word ‘natural’ , they seem to think by putting a few natural ingredients in their product makes their product natural – even though it is laden with other chemical and toxic ingredients. Now because more companies are seeking out natural products (so they can put natural on their bottle) the demand for more natural ingredients has increased. Which means that more farming and mining needs to occur – now this would be a good thing if it was done sustainably. However big companies want it in mass quantities and they want it cheap and fast. So forget about sustainable farming and mining – more pesticides are being put in the earth and more human rights are being exploited. When done mindlessly the mining of minerals for natural ingredients and of oil for petroleum based products disrupts ecosystems and depletes non-renewable natural resources. The benefit of buying 100% natural products from a smaller company means that the ingredients are more likely sourced sustainably – doing no damage to our environment.
The packaging of cosmetics and personal care products also has damaging effects to the environment. Bottles and tubes that hold shampoo, moisturizers and other products must be strong, so as to not be degraded by the very products they contain. Once these containers are empty they are thrown away and build up in landfills where they can take hundreds of years to break down. It is best to buy products in glass bottles, recycled jars and in as little packaging as possible.
They poison our planet:
The chemical components of many products don’t break down and instead accumulate in our ecosystems. Cosmetics and personal care products do their most damage to the environment after they are washed down our sinks. The chemicals are recycled into our lakes, streams, rivers and public water systems. Here are some of the most environmentally damaging chemicals used in cosmetics, including which products you’ll find them in and what effect they have on our ecosystems.
- P-phenylenediamine is a dangerous, coal-tar derived chemical most often found in dark hair colouring and lipsticks. P-phenylenediamine has long term toxic effects on aquatic ecosystems. It diminishes the animal plankton population, alters fish behaviour and causes death in many aquatic species. Read our report on Why We Should Care About Water Pollution
- The cosmetics preservatives BHA and BHT also alter behaviour and causes death in fish and shellfish. BHA and BHT also cause genetic mutations in amphibians. BHA and BHT are synthetic antioxidants that are found in many lipsticks and moisturizers.
- Dioxane is a carcinogenic, endocrine disruptive chemical that contaminates many cosmetic ingredients, including polyethylene glycols, sodium laureth sulfate and siloxane, during the manufacturing process. There are steps companies can take to remove dioxane contaminants but the methods are costly and time consuming so most companies don’t bother. Dioxane is found in cream based cosmetics, shampoos, moisturizers, soaps and bubble baths. When washed down the drain and introduced into aquatic ecosystems it alters fish behaviour, growth and increases fish mortality. Dioxane also causes death to insects, alters the formation and population of plant plankton, and causes behaviour changes, population decline and death in animal plankton.
- Dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, is the chemical added to nail polish to keep the paint from becoming brittle. DBP is a plasticizer, and is also used to make PVC pipe. DBP is introduced into the environment when polish is removed and discarded, either down the drain or into the trash can. DBP accumulates in the environment and affects a wide variety of aquatic species. DBP has been linked to altered behaviour, biochemistry, genetics, growth, and reproduction cycles of fish. It is also known to cause genetic mutation in amphibians and population declines in both animal and plant plankton. A highly DBP toxic environment causes death to all organisms in the ecosystem.
- Triclocan, the antibacterial chemical used in cleansers, hand-sanitizers, deodorant, and laundry detergent, is also capable of accumulating in the environment. Products that contain triclocan are almost always washed down the sink and introduced to aquatic ecosystems. Triclocan has been shown to change the biochemistry of amphibians, fish and aquatic plants. It is also linked to genetic mutation in amphibians and animal and plant planktons. The reproductive cycles, population, and growth patterns of plant and animal planktons, aquatic plants, amphibians and fish are also effected by tirclocan pollution. As with dibutyl phthalate, a highly triclocan toxic environment is fatal to all organisms in the ecosystem.
- Diethanolamine, or DEA, is added to almost every cosmetic and personal care product on the market. This chemical is used as a ph adjuster, and balances the acidic properties of the other chemicals in the product. DEA accumulates in the environment and also reacts with nitrates to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are highly carcinogenic to both human and animal life. DEA contamination has been linked to behaviour, reproductive and population changes in animal and plant plankton. It is fatally toxic to amphibians, crustaceans, fish, nematodes, flatworms, and animal plankton.
Cosmetic chemicals are not just hazardous to aquatic life. All life on Earth is dependent on the water cycle. Water vaporizes into the atmosphere, re-accumulates into clouds, then re-liquefies and returns to the Earth as rain. The chemicals that have been introduced into aquatic ecosystems evaporate along with the water and are then transferred to other areas through rain. Cosmetics related chemicals have been found in rivers, oceans, streams, lakes, public water supply, agricultural soil and even household dust particles. Livestock that is exposed to these chemicals can suffer reproductive, genetic, and developmental changes as well as many types of cancer.
Cosmetic and personal care companies have the option of registering their products with the Environmental Protection Agency. Like FDA registration, EPA registration is completely voluntary. The presence of and EPA registration number on a product in no way assures that the product or the packaging is environmentally friendly.
The environmental effects of cosmetic chemicals are far reaching, but there are steps consumers can take to keep these toxins out of the environment. Consumer demand has already led to some companies removing these chemicals from their products. There are resources online that provide lists of these safe companies and products. Apart from the chemical makeup of products consumers should also educate themselves on the sustainability of the ingredients used. Products like coconut oil and aloe vera are easily renewable. Finally, consumers should consider the type of packaging products come in. Some companies have taken the initiative to use only ecologically safe packaging or no packaging at all. Look for recyclable plastic bottles, simple paper wrapping or reusable glass packaging to keep product waste out of the landfills.
With education and responsible purchasing practices, consumers have the power to stop the pollution caused by cosmetic chemicals.
This post is part of our free beauty report where we discuss what the mainstream beauty brands don’t want you know, the benefits of having a totally green and natural beauty cabinet, we also share with you over 100 holistic beauty treatments and DIY recipes PLUS loads more. Click here to read the free beauty report.
Consumers assume that, like almost everything else in stores, cosmetics are tested and regulated before entering the market. This is not the case. In fact cosmetic products are some of the least regulated products sold.
The accumulated global waste resulting from the use of disposable plastic bottles and skin care chemicals (getting washed down from our sinks every day) can have a very undesirable effect on the health of our environment. As informed consumers, it becomes our responsibility to do our bit in helping reducing our environmental waste and carbon footprint by opting for the right type of cosmetic products.